There are a lot of people who live their lives without ever knowing what’s expected of them. Sometimes in your job you don’t know what your boss wants from you. You do what you can, but every report and everything that you do falls short in his or her eyes.
Very few places tell you exactly what’s expected of you. And even if they did, no one expects you to be able to do them. Some people rely on unwritten rules that are never spoken. The only way to learn what’s expected is through trial and error.
But it’s different in the New Testament. Jesus tells Christian believers exactly what he expects of us. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines the kinds of things he expects of us. I won’t sugarcoat it and tell you it’s easy.
Just because we know what Jesus expects of us doesn’t mean it’s always easy to fulfill his commands and teachings. All of us fall short of these, at least every once in a while. Still more theologians and scholars tell us mixed messages about whether these can be fulfilled in our lifetimes or after when we get to heaven.
So if we are to live holy lives before God, to be holy like him, how do we take these teachings Jesus lays out in his great sermon, and throughout the rest of the New Testament? Even after we understand what we can and should do, how do we actually do it?
There are several approaches to the kingdom of God and whether or not it is here now, coming in the future, or something in between. This is important because if the kingdom is here, Jesus’ expectations mean now. If it’s in the future, it’s not something on the top of our bucket list.
Depending on the theologians that your church or denomination agrees with, there may be different expectations for fulfilling the character and behavior the New Testament describes and prescribes. Some say you have to be doing what the New Testament prescribes now and others say later.
So let’s talk about each of these. Some people think the kingdom of God has already come. There are scriptures to support this point of view. There are several places throughout the Gospels that Jesus talks about the kingdom of God as being near or at hand (Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9, 11; 21:31).
We need to place the start of the kingdom of God because its coming means we must demonstrate its character and deeds. The idea that Jesus inaugurated, or began, the kingdom tells us that Jesus’ teachings and the rest of the New Testament, were written to describe the things we should be doing and the character we should have now.
The idea of the kingdom being near us or at hand shows that Jesus was saying his kingdom is here now. His expectations for kingdom character are for us now. This means that the high standards that Jesus presents, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, are required of us now.
He expects for us to be progressing in these things. This puts quite a pinch on us to do as he says. These requirements weigh heavily on us.
This is a good start for us, but I don’t think it’s the end product. Let’s take a look at a few of the other stances we can take as far as when God’s kingdom comes and what expectations he has for us.
Waiting until Later
Another way to read the New Testament is to see God’s kingdom is coming in the future. This means that the New Testament and the Sermon on the Mount, the entire teaching of Jesus, points to a later time.
This one’s a bit harder to see, but let’s stick with the idea of God’s kingdom coming later. While we may try to fulfill the high standards that Jesus lays out in his teaching, and the New Testament follows up on, in the here and now, if we fail, we don’t have to worry about displeasing the Lord.
If the kingdom of God doesn’t come until the end of time, when Jesus comes back in the second coming and establishes his kingdom on earth, that is when he will expect his teachings to be fully fulfilled in us.
We can try’s heart is we want, but it won’t do a whole lot of good. When we find that we fail at fulfilling the character and deeds Jesus expects of us, since his kingdom hasn’t come yet, kingdom character will be difficult to execute.
We have until the end to “get it right.” This view allows us all a bit of grace when we failed to accomplish the character and deeds that the kingdom requires. It means that we are still part of God’s kingdom even if we don’t fulfill his high demands all the time.
Some people don’t even think that we need to try to fulfill kingdom character or do the things that Jesus has told us to do as far as the Beatitudes and the Fruit of the Spirit, the hard things that he calls his disciples to do. I wouldn’t say we should be lax in our attempt to do what he says.
But this view allows us the grace that many of us need. Thinking about Jesus’ kingdom coming at the end of time doesn’t mean we don’t try or that the New Testament does not apply to us where the rubber meets the road. It just means that his kingdom is not here until the end.
There is a fairly recent approach that scholars define where we are sort of in between the beginning and ending of Jesus’ kingdom. It takes all of the Scriptures about the kingdom of God into account.
The idea is that Jesus has inaugurated, or begun, his kingdom on earth throughout his earthly ministry. So the kingdom of God has begun, but it is not yet complete. Jesus will come in the end times during his second coming and establish an earthly kingdom.
The best part about this type of view is that it allows us to begin to fulfill the kingdom character and expectations that Jesus has laid out in his Sermon on the Mount and teachings. The high standards he set in place are for us today.
But in the same way that we see salvation as a starting point and sanctification as the process of becoming more like Jesus has declared, this view allows us to know that God is not finished. We are not going to be perfect in our attempts but we can keep getting back up and following after Christ.
The already but not yet perspective gives us the ability to not put off the high standards of Christ and the New Testament. But we also realize that Jesus has more to do. He started the kingdom but it is still not complete until he comes back.
So Jesus set a high standard for us to follow. When he returns, the kingdom will be complete and kingdom character will be our main operation. But until he returns, we’re moving toward that goal that he has set.
It’s good for us that all the Scriptures were written down. We tend to forget everything that Jesus requires of us and the things that he has told us. We don’t remember everything, and the New Testament was written so we could be reminded of these things by the Holy Spirit as we read.
In my opinion, this is the best approach to understanding the entire New Testament. Jesus has begun all of the things that are part of his kingdom, but he is not finished with us. There is much more he wants to do in us. And the Holy Spirit continues to work his power in us.
So now that we have found a view that seems to fit the New Testament, how are we going to apply it to our lives. After all, I have already admitted in this post, and all of us would admit, that we don’t always get it right.
Sanctification is a process for a reason. Sometimes we do well. Other times we stumble along the way. It’s important for us to get back up if we stumble. Otherwise, we get on the wrong path and away from the holiness God wants us to enjoy.
Becoming holy like God takes time. But the best part is that we are not required to do it all on our own. Even if we understand everything taught in the New Testament completely, we are not required to fulfill it on our own.
In fact, we can’t. As I’ve already said, human willpower is not enough to complete the vision Jesus has of our holy destiny. We are on the path of holiness, walking on this journey with Christ. But he is not the only one.
The New Testament describes the Holy Spirit as our Comforter or Counselor. In the original language, the word here is Paraclete, meaning, “One who comes alongside.” The Holy Spirit is right there with us at every turn. He walks the path with us as a Guide.
With the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, we can fulfill the requirements of the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. He guides us into everything that Jesus wants us to do. He takes us along one step at a time, addressing issue after issue in our character.
The new creature that Christ is making us to be comes into reality through the direction and power of the Holy Spirit in us. God never tells us to do something without giving us the tools that we need.
But let’s not think of the Holy Spirit as a tool in becoming holy. Let us think of him as our best friend, our Guide and our Leader. With his help, we can achieve obedience to the command of the Lord.
When I talk about holiness and the Holy Spirit within us, I will never stop teaching about the most important part of our journey. We will not progress toward holiness unless we listen to and obey the Holy Spirit.
Other human beings, wise and mature Christians that we can trust, who have our best interest at heart as they guide us, are not the same. The Holy Spirit is the best Guide for our lives. He knows exactly what God wants because he is God. And he can lead us more skillfully than any other leader.
As we travel the path to holiness, we have many helps to our advantage. Well-meaning and mature Christians help us, but the Holy Spirit is the best Guide. As we follow him, the one who comes alongside us and tells us what he expects, we will reach the final goal.
Jesus told us what he expects of us in kingdom character. And the kingdom has already begun. The high calling and standard Jesus has set for us can be reached with the Holy Spirit’s help. We don’t need to figure out God’s expectations or use our own willpower to fulfill them.
I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who guides us into holiness. I am thankful for God’s Word that tells us Jesus’ high expectations for us. The roadmap is set and the Holy Spirit is at the helm. Let me know what you think of the Holy Spirit’s guidance in your own walk by leaving a comment below.